The Atlanta organizers dubbed the place Centennial Park to mark their 100th-anniversary edition of the modern Olympic Games, a century of some of the finest moments in American sports:
"Babe" Didrikson at the 1932 Los Angeles Games, the greatest woman athlete of her era; Jesse Owens at Berlin in 1936, an African American overwhelming the "supermen" of Hitler's racist Germany; Southern Californian Sammy Lee, an Asian American, tops in platform diving in 1948 and 1952; Rafer Johnson, the incomparable decathlete, taking the gold at Rome in 1960. There have been legions of others, including the young Americans we have seen on TV over the past week. These are scenes we will never forget.
Nor we will forget the cowardly bombing at Centennial Park early Saturday morning. Some murderer, or a nest of them, put the bomb under a bench amid a celebrating crowd of innocent people. It was a pipe bomb, packed with nails and screws, a vicious weapon that throws bits of metal in every direction. The aim is to puncture and rip flesh, and that happened at Centennial Park. There has been no message other than the sheer violence itself. Two people were killed and at least 111 injured.
Once again violence has been an uninvited player at the Olympics. It sneaked into Munich in 1972, when 11 Israeli athletes were killed by terrorists. Each subsequent host city jacked up security, but the attack in Atlanta has proved once again that it is nearly impossible to stop a killer in a crowd. Atlanta is also proving, as Munich did, that it is impossible for the killers to stop the Olympics. And that's right and good.
The United States increasingly is a target of terrorist violence. The bombings of the World Trade Center in New York and the federal building in Oklahoma City indicate the range of the threat. TWA Flight 800 might soon join the list of American targets hit by terrorists.
There is only one obvious way to abate the threat, and that is to increase security. Some sacrifice of personal independence will be involved. Measures must be taken to protect the public in situations that tempt political terrorists and violent screwballs.
Atlanta officials did not accept the message delivered by William Rathburn, a former Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief and head of security for the 1996 Summer Games. Rathburn insisted on controlled entrance to the 21-acre Centennial Park. The city fathers said no, they wanted it open. No metal detectors, no inspections.
Americans are not comfortable with the heavy security they see when traveling abroad: heavily armed soldiers patrolling airline terminals; roadblocks and checkpoints in sensitive areas. But operations like these, while oppressive, can help crush terrorism, and with proper restrictions they can be performed without violating our constitutional rights. President Clinton spoke Sunday of widening wiretap authority and requiring chemical markers for explosives. Let's talk.